Byrum: Heinicke isn't a rookie, he shouldn't be treated like one


Taylor Heinicke is not a rookie. Taylor Heinicke is 28 years old. Yet, despite his slightly-below average play, some want to give the average-aged gunslinger a pass so far this season. There should be some nuance, but it can't be ignored where he stands for his career.

To put his age in better perspective, Heinicke is the same age as Dak Prescott. He is older than Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Mitch Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes.

Now, age is technically just a number. But in the NFL - unless your name is Tom Brady or Larry Fitzgerald - Father Time always catches up. For most quarterbacks, if you make it to 30 as a starter, you've done something pretty rare. The average peak age for QBs is 25, with those who make it past that age seeing fall-offs at 26 and 28 according to a data analysis from Bleacher Report in 2009. Four years later it was backed up by saying the plateau is at 25 for starting QBs and then is relatively unchanged until 30.

That means Heinicke is trying to join stratified air in the NFL. By all odds, he's likely passed his peak or is currently in his peak as a passer. Even if he hasn't, what he's trying to do as a 28-year-old is another uncommon feat.

Of the 75+ quarterbacks to lead a franchise to the postseason from 2000-2020, there are only 14 that did so for the first time in their career after their 28th birthday. Only Kurt Warner, who was 28 when leading the St. Louis Rams in 1999, went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career with several playoff appearances following the first. The rest of the list includes a wide range of signal-callers such as Matt Schaub (31), Jeff Garcia (31), Jake Delhomme (28) and Brad Johnson (28). 


Notables that are still in the NFL are Case Keenum (28 - 2019), Ryan Tannehill (28 - 2016), and Jimmy Garoppolo (28 -2019). 

These are reasons why head coach Ron Rivera said this week that the team is always looking for a franchise QB. The three most recent cases all had a ton of NFL experience leading them to their breakthrough.

"It's something you always talk about. Until you get [a franchise QB], you're always going to be looking," Rivera told the Sports Junkies. "You're wondering if anyone on the current roster is capable of developing. Is there a guy that's going to be out there in free agency? Is there a guy in the draft we could do something for to get? Absolutely, we're always talking about it."

With that comment, Rivera is leaving every door open. Developing a QB on the roster, well based on the data and history, that is more on track with the backup Kyle Allen who is only 25. Rivera has made it clear too that Heinicke isn't getting benched for Allen either.

Should he be? The stats aren't favorable for the Old Dominion product. 

He averages 236.9 passing yards per game (26th), his completion rate is 64.3% (26th), he has thrown for 10 touchdowns (tied for 16th), seven interceptions (tied for sixth-most) with a quarterback rating of 86.8 (24th) and a 45.0 QBR (23rd).

And there are really only two reasons not to bench an under-performing QB - he's young or he's the franchise guy. With Heinicke, it's neither as Allen would be the younger of the two and Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the franchise guy. For the remaining starters below Heinicke in most of these statistics, everyone falls in one of those categories.

Yes, Heinicke started the season backing up the now-injured Fitzpatrick. Yes, Heinicke might not have tapped his full potential in the NFL. Yes, the Washington coaching staff might still have the training wheels on the playbook for fear of it leading to turnovers. Yes, he still is finding the balance between aggression and playing it safe. And yes, he's only started eight games - one of which was a playoff contest.

Bottom line is, though, he's not a rookie and he shouldn't be judged like one. If it takes two more years for Heinicke to develop, he'll be 30. 

But hey, Kurt Warner started his career in another football league and led a team to the playoffs when he was 28. Heinicke just needs to turn into the next Kurt Warner.